Both sides report ‘movement’ in Chicago teacher talks, negotiations to resume this weekend

Negotiations between the Chicago teachers union and city officials will continue into the weekend after Day 2 of a strike ended with both sides pointing to progress but significant differences still separating them.  

“The theme for today is that we’ve seen some movement, but it’s not enough,” Jennifer Johnson, the Chicago Teachers Union’s chief of staff, said after talks ended at about 5:30 p.m. Friday at Malcolm X College.

A joint statement Friday evening from Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Chicago Public Schools CEO Janice Jackson sounded a more positive note, describing the day’s negotiations as productive and yielding “real movement” on key issues. 

“A strong sense of urgency and willingness to compromise on both sides will be essential to reaching a deal, and we are committed to bargaining in good faith so that we can create the fair agreement our students, families and teachers deserve,” the statement said.

The city and union bargaining teams are scheduled to meet again Saturday and Sunday, union President Jesse Sharkey said.

More than 300,000 Chicago students have been out of class the past two days in the latest in a series of teachers strikes that have swept the country. Roughly 25,000 educators walked off the job in a dispute that stretches well beyond traditional bargaining issues of pay and benefits to include issues ranging from class size to calls for additional support staff like nurses, counselors, and librarians.

Union officials on Friday reported winning more social workers, nurses, special education case management and bilingual program coordinators, with targets and phase-in language. They said the district also agreed to provide one additional full-time position for the 20% of schools with the highest need. 

Schools could choose what type of specialist they would hire, “which creates a bit more of a ‘Hunger Games’ situation where schools would have to pick between a library, counselor or another position,” Johnson said. 

The statement from city officials also cited progress on staffing for clinical groups, special education, and help for homeless students. Prior to the joint statement with Jackson, Lightfoot tweeted Friday that educators deserve a raise, and that the district’s offer would boost average teacher pay to about $100,000 annually. She highlighted the district’s Oct. 11 offer, including a 16% raise and maintaining health benefit costs.

The union reported receiving a written counterproposal for staffing, and said negotiators were closing in on resolving one contentious issue, more strictly defining counselor duties. 

Union officials also signaled a new openness on the duration of the contract. But, Johnson added, “our members are not going to be locked into a five-year contract that doesn’t provide the students what they need during the contract’s duration.” The union has been pressing for a three-year contract, while the city has been steadfast in sticking with a five-year deal. 

The ratio of counselors to students — which the union said can reach one counselor for 1,500 students — remains unresolved, as do pay increases for veteran educators and paraprofessionals, including members of SEIU Local 73, who are also on strike. 

Earlier in the day, negotiators clashed over prep time for elementary school teachers. Union officials insisted they do not want to reduce instructional time, but want teachers to start work earlier and be paid for that time.